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God is in the details

Adoration of the Magi

With the new year comes talk of resolutions, reform and the hope for sweeping changes for the good. The realists among us will observe that the devil is often in the details. But the details are not uncontested ground in life. The grace of God will be found there as well. It is in the small details–particular things–that the grace of God is assured for us.

According to Matthew, wisemen came to Jerusalem from some point east to pay homage to the one whose star they had seen rising. You can imagine that the idea of a new king, a new reign significant enough to warrant a sign among the stars, was a big deal full of possibilities for new agendas, and sweeping reforms. The magi, we read, present themselves at a big place in Jerusalem, King Herod’s palace, where their questions invite a big panic and then an even bigger news. Scholars in the palace point the court and its eastern guests to the fifth chapter of the Book of the Prophet Micah and the announcement that the King of the Jews would come out of Bethlehem which seems small, but Micah’s promise goes on. The king would come from Bethlehem but his origins would be from a time before time. The king that Micah was announcing was divine. That’s big.

So the wisemen go, spurred on by this big news but when they get there everything they see seems small: the town, the house and, especially, the child.

Painters of the European Renaissance have provided us with dozens of presentations of this encounter like the one pictured above (Domenico Ghirlandio, "Adoration of the Magi" 1487) in which the bigness of the whole thing is contrasted by the naked smallness of the child in the center of it all. The magi just stare at the small, specific, humanity of God. His is one small life.

The ministry of the Chapel, though in a grand building, is founded on this small reality of God among us in the person and work, the death and resurrection of Jesus. At the center of it all is a small, even tiny, meal of bread and wine, which we believe is the body and blood of Christ being offered to all in need of forgiveness, life and salvation.

Maybe you’ve got big plans for the new year. We pray God’s blessings for them even as we continue to offer to you the reality of divine grace over your life in the small means of bread, wine and words of forgiveness.

Pr Jim


Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.